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Treasures in New Haven

03/10/2014 08:40 pm ET | Updated May 10, 2014
Mark Daffey via Getty Images

2014-03-06-bradkenshoprofilepic200x200.jpgBrad Armstrong found great joy working on organic farms in Vermont and Idaho. But when he moved back to his native New Haven a few years ago, hydroponics (or gardening without soil) became his passion. "I started hearing about what was happening in the rest of the world and connecting dots between deteriorating climatic conditions and food systems," he explains. "This was a promising way to effectively use wasted space, like rooftops that are just sitting there."

Armstrong's dream was to grow food, like micro greens, indoors and supply to commercial markets like urban restaurants. He wished to create social programs to help improve urban environments by integrating nature into them. He wanted to help close the food waste and energy loops. But how?

Enter the City of New Haven and its Project Storefronts program, which was created in 2010. The idea is that through grants and its own funding, the city incubates small businesses, providing, for a limited time, an actual storefront with no overhead. "Six new businesses were created from Project Storefronts, got their legs and graduated into their own storefronts," explains Michael Piscitelli, Deputy Economic Development Administrator for the the City of New Haven. "This is an opportunity to help small business get on their feet in a very affordable way and open up market opportunities. And the community benefits too."

This month Armstrong received the keys to his store, urban SEED [ ] ponics lab, which contains two giant windows and a refrigeration system. For three months he has no overhead -- no rent, no electricity bills. And he also receives technical support and office assistance to help his business thrive. "I am starting a social enterprise, and this gives me a center to run community programs and start my business," says Armstrong, who eventually hopes to have a café.

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Brad Armstrong's urban SEED [ ] ponics lab

Project Storefronts is just one really cool element of New Haven. The city is filled with them. Check out these gems.

Shop at a custom-made-clothing boutique and design house: Located in New Haven's historic Ninth Square District is Neville Wisdom's boutique, filled with his custom designs for women that have a classic, vintage feel with a modern twist. (He's also working on a men's line.) Wisdom designs dresses and clothing from silk, linens and wool that are made to flatter. Each item is custom-altered to fit (at no additional charge), or Wisdom can create pieces from scratch.

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Neville Wisdom (photo courtesy of Neville Wisdom)

See a show at a historic theater: The famed Shubert Theater opened its doors on Dec. 11, 1914, and over the years it has been a incubator of great productions. Six hundred shows have played at the Shubert before heading to Broadway. A Streetcar Named Desire premiered there in 1947 with a new actor named Marlon Brando. In fact, legends including Al Jolson; Ethel, John and Lionel Barrymore; and W.C. Fields have performed on its stage. Opera, dance and all varieties of concerts are presented with tickets prices that can go as low as $15. Watch the 1950 classic film All About Eve and see the theater immortalized on screen.

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Photo courtesy of Market New Haven

Stay in the center of the action: Set smack in the midst of Yale's art, architecture and drama schools on fetching Chapel Street (one of New Haven's main shopping hubs), The Study at Yale is an easy walk to Yale's galleries and museums. Spacious rooms with feather-topped beds and leather chairs are for lingering. And the lobby (which feels more like a cozy living room), with its floor-to-ceiling bookcase, is filled with works from visiting authors and cool coffee-table books. Plus, their farm-to-table Heirloom restaurant, with dishes like sea scallops with caramelized spaghetti squash, sage and capers, is off the charts.

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Photo courtesy of Market New Haven

Take a Yalie-guided walking tour of campus: An excellent way to get a sense of the Yale campus and student life is with a complimentary walking tour given by Yale College students. Learn about the school's rich 300-year history, residential colleges, architecture and where students go to rub the good-luck foot. Tours begin at the Yale Visitor Center.

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Photo courtesy of Market New Haven

Stop by the farmers' market: At the CitySeed Wooster Square Farmers' Market, a variety of local purveyors sell fruits, vegetables and soaps. Not to be missed is grilled cheese and tomato soup from the Caseus Cheese Truck, which also parks all over New Haven. The farmers' market is open Saturday mornings from May to December. But even off season, this neighborhood, New Haven's Little Italy, is worth a stroll. Look for the 19th-century mansions and examples of federal, Greek revival, and Italian-villa-style homes. And with all the pizza and Italian pastry shops (including the famous Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana), come hungry. For a listing of farmers' markets in New Haven, visit cityseed.org.

Eat your way through the city on a foodie walking tour: New Haven isn't just a pizza mecca. The city is filled with seafood restaurants, burger joints, bakeries and food tucks. Taste of New Haven helps people navigate the mouthwatering options by offering culinary walking city tours. Start off with a wine tasting at The Wine Thief, then head to BAR for pizza. Go to Temple Grill for their signature grilled ahi tuna sandwich and hand-cut French fries. Make a stop at Kudeta for sushi and other Asian fusion dishes. End at Wave Gallery, which has been open for more than 25 years, for chocolate and unique gifts.

Have a healthy but decadent breakfast: Since 1975 Claire's Corner Copia has been a beloved New Haven spot for vegetarian and organic food. Don't let the healthy label fool you. The custard-filled vegetable and cheese quiche is scrumptious. Buttercream-frosted cakes can be custom-made (with diary and gluten-free and vegan options too). Their Lithuanian coffee cake is also a mainstay. The French toast loaded with sauteed bananas and pure maple syrup is worth the splurge.

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Photo courtesy of Market New Haven

For more information, visit www.infonewhaven.com.

Photos used with permission.

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